Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Time to throw in the towel

Well, it's finally time to admit that I'm not going to finish my CBR this year. I was going for a half, and I've only made it a quarter. Disappointing, but it's been difficult to find the time to read between working two jobs and visiting Matt all summer. I have one final review that I could post, for Justin Cronin's "The Passage," but I'm too defeated to even bother. Ah well.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

CBRIII Book 14: Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse edited by John Joseph Adams

As I was flipping through the book advertisements at the back of the last book in my CBR, the Brave New Worlds anthology, I found an ad for a book of apocalyptic fiction also edited by Adams. Naturally, I had to check it out. In Brave New Worlds, Adams demonstrated a knack for picking engrossing short stories, and in Wastelands, he didn't disappoint.

There were several stories that I thought stood out above the others. "The People of Sand and Slag" by Paulo Bacigalupi describes a future in which people have been bioengineered to the point of almost immortality. A group of mercenaries come across a dog, a species thought to be extinct, and try to figure out what to do with it. The story was rather moving, and made me wonder, if pain could be eliminated from our lives, would love and compassion go with it?

Another story that I loved was Jerry Oltion's "Judgement Passed." A group of astronauts returns to Earth to discover that the Rapture has occurred without them. They're left to wonder if they're better off in their newly emptied world or if perhaps God will come back for them... but one of them doesn't want to sit around and wait.

Dave Bailey's "The End of the World as We Know It" puts the phrase in a different context - it gives a look at how one specific individual's world comes to an end due to a personal tragedy... that happens during the apocalypse. It's incredibly touching, and I won't deny that it moved me to tears.

The anthology also included several stories I'd already read, like Cory Doctorow's "When Sysadmins Ruled the World," which I hated the first time I read it, and Octavia Butler's "Speech Sounds," which is one of my favorite short stories of all time from my favorite author. And, of course, there were a few stories I didn't really enjoy, like Gene Wolfe's "Mute," which is supposed to benefit from repeat readings, but I had to scour the internet for clues as to the meaning of the story.

It appears that Adams has several other anthologies out there, like one devoted entirely to zombie stories. I'll definitely have to look for that one, and I recommend this one as well as the previous anthology to anyone interested in some wonderful short stories.

Monday, June 6, 2011

CBRIII Book 13: Brave New Worlds edited by John Joseph Adams

John Joseph Adams is a man after my own heart. He has pulled together an anthology of dystopian literature titled "Brave New Worlds" that spans the genre from one of the earliest (and best known) stories, Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," to recent works by authors like Paolo Bacigalupi and Genevieve Valentine. What caught my eye, besides the title that evokes my favorite novel, was the list of authors on the cover: Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Card, Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. Le Guin, and so on - a veritable cornucopia of talent!

It's a huge book, with 34 stories that explore all sorts of different futures and worlds. Of course, some are better than others. I couldn't put down "Auspicious Eggs," by James Morrow, which envisions a future where reproduction is the law. S. L. Gilbow's "Red Card" is a clever little story about what happens when society gives a few select individuals a license to kill. And "Pervert" by Charles Coleman Finlay flips our society's obsession with sexuality and ponders a future in which heterosexuality is seen as a perversion.

There are a few stories that I didn't care for, like Kim Stanley Robinson's "The Lunatics," which just sort of droned on and on for what seemed like ages. But for the most part, this anthology is packed with fantastic stories with themes that range from religion to sexuality to how technology is shaping our lives - and the lives of those to come. It even includes such classics as Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" and Philip K. Dick's "The Minority Report."

I think that this book is an excellent choice for summer reading. The short story format is perfect for a day at the beach, or catching a chapter or two between cat naps in your hammock in your backyard. Some stories are only 2 or 3 pages long, so you can read an entire story and still get to enjoy the rest of your vacation. One thing's for certain for me - I will definitely be adding this collection to my library. Adams has done a wonderful job of collecting some amazing fiction in this anthology.

Monday, April 25, 2011

CBR III Book 12: Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher really needs no introduction. If you don't know who she is, you've clearly never heard of Star Wars, so you're probably either a hermit or someone who was born in the last few years. (And if so, what are you doing on the internet?!? Where are your parents?!?) Wishful Drinking is the book adaptation of her successful one-woman show in which she shares the details of her life in the spotlight, from the scandalous breakup of her famous parents to the role that made her a superstar in George Lucas's blockbuster trilogy and her messy post-Leia life of drugs, bad marriages, and electroshock therapy.

The book is a little blip of a thing, and I imagine it plays very well as a stage show. I kinda wish I had seen the show instead of read the book, because I feel like some of Fisher's wit falls a bit flat on the page. Still, it's definitely an interesting read - the section on her parents' various marriages and divorces alone was worth picking up the book. I haven't read any of Fisher's other novels, but after this one, I might check them out.

CBR III Book 11: The Broke Diaries by Angela Nissel

I have to admit, what drew me to this book was definitely the title. Since we moved back to PA, we've been living modestly, trying to save every penny we can, so most of the time, I feel like I'm constantly broke. So when I saw this book, which is the book form of a blog started by Angela Nissel while she was a student at the University of Pennsylvania, I thought I could commiserate with the author.

I was wrong. When Nissel says "broke," she means down to her last dollar. Thankfully, I haven't experienced half of what she went through. I haven't been so broke that I flirted with the man from the power company to keep him from shutting off my electricity. I haven't had to use my cat's water dish as an extra mixing bowl while making cheesecake because I only owned two bowls (yup, she really did this). Her "misadventures," as she calls them, are simultaneously cringe-worthy and hilarious. No matter how dire things get, how many phone calls from collectors she has to dodge, or how many weirdos at the check cashing store she tries to avoid, Nissel never loses her cool or her sharp wit.

I was pleased to find out that Nissel found success not only with this book, but with another that she wrote called "Mixed," which details her life growing up as a child of mixed race. It made me happy to learn that because reading Nissel is like listening to stories from a funny friend - you find yourself rooting for her and hoping things will work out in the end.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

CBRIII Book 10: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

It should come as no surprise to those of you who know me that I loved this book. LOVED IT. A story about a young man who discovers a world of magic that lies beyond our own? I didn't stand a chance against this book.

Quentin Coldwater is disillusioned. At the young age of 17, he's tired of his home in New York City, and the ever-pervading feeling that the life he's living is not the life that was intended for him. He longs to discover that his real life exists elsewhere... like the magical world of Fillory, a Narnia-esque fantasy world created by an author named Christopher Plover. Quentin is a huge fan of the Fillory series, and secretly compares his life to the adventures of the Chatwin family in the series. A smart, sharp, brooding teenager (is there any other kind?), Quentin is on his way to an interview with a Princeton alum when things go awry - the interviewer is dead, and left behind in a file for Quentin to find is a manuscript for a sixth Fillory book - a book that does not exist. Intrigued, Quentin opens the book and slips down the proverbial rabbit hole, ending up on the grounds of a school in upstate New York - Brakebills College. He discovers in short time that magic is real, and he is being offered the chance to study it at Brakebills if he passes an exam unlike any other he's ever taken. Quentin naturally jumps at the chance - could the life he'd been longing for actually be real? It may not be Fillory, but it's something amazing and new, and worlds away from his life in high school.

Soon, Quentin is a student at Brakebills, learning how to cast spells while trying to figure out his specific Discipline (a specific area of magic that he'll focus on, like picking a major at college). This is no Hogwarts, though, and it's clear that there is a dark side to everything he learns. As the years pass by, Quentin slowly comes to realize that he can do anything he wants, with the magic he's learned - so what is there to do when you can literally do anything? He again experiences disillusionment and fears that he's losing the battle when one of his classmates comes to him with an amazing discovery - Fillory is real, and is theirs for the taking. He and his friends travel to Fillory to discover the truth behind Plover's stories - and to discover their fate once and for all.

I could go on and on about this book - it's filled from start to finish with captivating adventures. One scene in particular has stuck with me since reading the novel. One typical day, while stuck in a boring lecture, Quentin tries to find a way to entertain himself by causing the professor to mess up his lecture, and inadvertently creates a spell that allows an otherworldly creature referred to as "the Beast" to cross over into their world. Grossman creates such a permeating sense of absolute dread that you can't help but feel as terrified and helpless as the students feel in being trapped in the hall with the Beast as it stalks about playing with its prey.

I found myself identifying with Quentin's ongoing inability to just live in the moment and enjoy it. I mean, who hasn't at one time or another looked around and thought, "Is this it? Is this really how my life is?" And even as Quentin gets the chance to live the life he thought he wanted, he's still not sure if it's going to lead to the happiness he's been missing. I've read some reviews that thought that Quentin was basically a big idiot - he got his wish, what is he waiting for?, that kind of thing - but to me that just made the character more realistic.

I've heard the book described as "Harry Potter for adults." That's a very easy comparison to make, but I think the world that Grossman has created here is strong enough to stand on its own. Brakebills and all of its students felt very real to me, and Fillory comes to life in the last section of the book. Grossman is working on a sequel to be released sometime this year. I cannot wait to read what new adventures he's come up with since he finished the Magicians.

CBR III Book 9: A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby is a British author whose works are well-liked and have been adapted into many movies: Fever Pitch, About a Boy, High Fidelity, etc. "A Long Way Down" is a trifle of a book that I can't imagine would make a very good film, but it does have that Hornby wit that elevates it above a typical mindless read.

On New Year's Eve, four strangers find themselves on the top of Topper House in London, a building with a reputation as a last stop for those considering suicide. Martin is a breakfast tv show host who has messed up his life due to a scandalous affair with an underage girl; Maureen is a single mother who has devoted her life to her (both physically and developmentally) handicapped son; Jess is a slightly loony British teen who hides a family secret; and JJ is the lone American of the group, a musician who is trying to come to terms with the end of his career. Although they're all considering jumping, none of them are able to do it in front of the others, and they end up forming an unlikely bond. The book follows the group as they leave Topper House together and, over the next few months, try to figure out what led them there in the first place and if it's worth changing their lives to they don't end up there in the future.

All four characters take turns narrating the novel, and it helps to hear what's going on in each of their heads. Of all the characters, Maureen stuck with me the most, because she had the worst circumstances, and yet her life is the most improved by the end in very simple ways. But I have the feeling that in a month's time, I won't even remember the names of the characters. This is a very quick, easy read that doesn't leave much of an impression behind - not that there's anything wrong with that.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

CBR III Book 8: Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present by Cory Doctorow

I almost gave up on this book. It's a collection of short stories by Cory Doctorow, one of the founders of, which is a daily Internet stop for me. I can always find something amusing or fascinating on the website, so I was surprised to find myself so bored with the first few stories in the book. I'm not a gamer, and I'm not a tech geek or web geek or whatever they call themselves, so I suppose it's not really surprising that some of the stories didn't catch my interest.

Overclocked is a compendium of some of Doctorow's best known stories: "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth," "Anda's Game," and "I, Robot" are the three that I'd heard of before picking up the book. "When Sysadmins..." tells the story of a group of systems administrators who are the survivors of some epic apocalyptic event. On the back of the book, the story's blurb reads "When Sysadmins... tells of the heroic exploits of sysadmins... as they defend the cyber-world, and hence the world at large, from worms and bioweapons." And my GOD, that could not be a more misleading blurb. None of that happens. In fact, NOTHING happens in the story. These sysadmins survive, and decide that they should do something, and after a whole bunch of nothing happens, they decide to create a government made up entirely of elected sysadmins, and then a whole bunch of nothing else happens and the story ends. There wasn't any "defending" going on. As far as apocalyptic stories go, this might be the worst one I've ever read.

"Anda's Game" didn't fair much better, I'm afraid. It's the story of a girl who spends her days making money as a gamer and stumbles onto a virtual sweatshop where teenage girls are working in poor labor conditions for little amounts of money. It was an interesting premise, but the execution was rather dull, the main character was a little twat, to be frank, and it ends just as things start to get interesting and Anda decides to take down those in charge of the sweatshops.

The only story that I truly enjoyed out of the 6 was "I, Robot." Doctorow openly admits in his preface that the story borrows largely from Asimov - from the title itself to the three laws of robotics - and Orwell - he uses the geography of 1984, referring to Oceania and Eurasia in the story - and it's a little disappointing (there's that word again!) that the one story I liked is the one that is basically not his own work. I'm not saying he's not a good writer; I'm saying I apparently don't like his work unless he uses the (more interesting? better thought-out? more creative?) work of others.

Hmmm. When I set out to review this book, I didn't plan on talking so much about how I didn't like it. But the more I think about it, the more I realize just how let down I was. I guess it serves me right for having such lofty expectations for Doctorow's work. In any case, I don't think I'll be picking up any of his other stories or his novels. There's so much science fiction out there to be read, why dwell on the stuff I don't like?

And one last note: "Stories of the Future Present" - really? Really?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

CBR III Book 7: Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner

Sylvie Woodruff is a politician's wife who has devoted her life to taking care of her husband, Richard. She's written his speeches, set his schedule, groomed him, and raised his two daughters. Her seemingly perfect life is rocked when it's revealed that Richard had an affair with a young staffer and procured a job for her. Sylvie is devastated by this betrayal and seeks refuge in her family's beachhouse in Connecticut. She needs time away from Richard to figure out what's next - not only for their marriage, but for herself, because without him, she doesn't even know who she is anymore.

Meanwhile, Sylvie's two grown-up daughters find themselves struggling with problems of their own. Diana, the eldest, is a doctor living in Philadelphia with her husband Gary and son Milo. Diana has worked hard to build a solid, perfect-looking life of her own, but she's found herself tempted to stray from her marriage - and risks losing everything in the process. And Lizzie, the younger daughter, is a recovering drug addict who is trying to prove that she's not the black sheep of the family. Both of the girls find themselves, like their mother, trying to suss out who they are, while also trying to figure out what it means to be a family when things are at their worst.

I'm a fan of Jennifer Weiner's work - I've read everything she's ever published. I didn't think this one was up to her standard, and I couldn't quite figure out what about it I didn't like, but I think it boils down to trying to pack too much into one book. Any one of the three major storylines could have its own book; by putting them all into one novel, they ended up a little compressed and rushed in order to reach the same ending point together. However, I'd still recommend the book - it's a nice, easy read, perfect for curling up on the couch with a cup of hot cocoa.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

CBRIII Book 6: Room by Emma Donoghue

Jack and his Ma live in Room. Jack is 5 and has only known life in Room. He has never been Outside. He and his Ma spend their days with routines and chores like Phys Ed (running Track on Rug) and laundry (washing clothes in their little bathtub). Jack sleeps in Wardrobe at night, because that's when Old Nick comes to visit his Ma. Jack is growing up and beginning to wonder about Outer Space (what he calls everything outside Room). As his Ma struggles to answer his growing questions, she finally breaks down and tells him the truth about why they are in Room, what's waiting beyond its walls, and why they must try to escape.

Room, the novel, is written from Jack's perspective. I knew before I starting reading why Jack and Ma were stuck in the room, so I didn't get to experience the reveal firsthand. Still, I thought Room was an addictive little story. I found it hard to put down once things got rolling. There were a few very tense moments that had me on the edge of my proverbial seat. I did experience a little frustration at times with Jack's narration. A five year old's vocabulary and descriptive ability tend to be limited, but I think Donoghue made the right choice with using Jack as the narrator, and with having him be only 5 and not any older. I mean, how realistic would it be to have, say, a teenager as the narrator? Could Old Nick keep two people trapped, especially if one were a healthy, growing teenage boy? Of course, even if he were older, he'd probably still have the same sense of awe and wonder that 5 year old Jack experiences about the outside world.

The most amazing thing about the novel is how Ma is able to care for Jack with no help from any one else and using only what they have in Room. She teaches him to read and write, shows him how to cook and clean, and keeps him entertained using things like old cups and boxes to build forts and labyrinths, and although he may suffer from a lack of social development, he seems to be a smart little boy. It's amazing to think about how resilient a person can be, especially when they're doing all they can for someone they love.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

CBRIII Book 5: How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown

There are certain things that I learned in school that I've never questioned - certain facts that I was taught year after year until they became indisputably true. One impeachable truth was that there are nine planets in our solar system. I'm sure many people even remember a mnemonic used to recall the names of the planets - "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas" is the one that I was taught.

Well, anyone who hasn't been in a coma the last ten years knows that this is no longer quite true. Pluto, the lonely ninth planet at the farthest reach of our solar system, has been kicked out of the club and relabeled a "dwarf planet." And Mike Brown, an astronomer from CalTech, is solely to blame.

Ok, maybe not "solely." But it was Mike and his team's discovery of several large, planet-sized objects in the Kuiper belt outside our solar system that set off a chain reaction of planetary announcements, attempted discovery-thefts, and meetings of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) that eventually led to Pluto's ousting.

Brown brings his intelligence and passion for astronomy to his story. What would seem to be a fairly straightforward memoir, beginning with his schooling and recounting how he met his wife and started a family while working on his career, is spiced up a bit with the revelation that Brown's work was almost stolen by a group of scientists in Spain. You see, in the field of astronomy, the basic unspoken rule is "He who announces it first, discovered it." Basically, if Scientist A finds a planet, and then the next day Scientist B finds it, and Scientist B announces his discovery first, then Scientist B gets all the glory. Brown makes a strong argument for why scientists shouldn't rush into such announcements - it's better to do the research and compile all the facts first before making lofty announcements. That way, there's no need to retract anything - imagine, for example, announcing you found a planet twice the size of Pluto, only to later realize it's actually only half the size. Why not save looking like a greedy fool and wait until you have all the facts?

Another subject that Brown discusses in depth is the definition of the word "planet." In astronomy, it turns out there is no real concrete definition. As the science has evolved over hundreds of years, the word has changed as well. Normally, when most people think of the word, they think of large objects that revolve around the sun. But does that also mean that asteroids should count? Or moons? How large is large? In the end, the IAU had to come to a decision about what counted as a planet and what didn't, and as a result, Pluto's fate hung in the balance along with Brown's discoveries.

Even though I knew the eventual outcome for Pluto, there was still a bit of suspense in regards to the IAU's decisions. I never realized how much I had taken the word "planet" for granted. But I suppose it makes sense since, in the grand scheme of things, we truly know very little about our universe. We're still learning every day, and like with any science, terminology and long-standing "truths" are bound to change.

I've never been very interested in astronomy, but I still found this to be a great little read. It's definitely worth a look, especially if you've always wondered why Pluto lost its status as a planet.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

CBRIII Book 4: Matched by Ally Condie

If there's anything that's evident from my CBR last year, it's that I have no qualms about reading YA novels. In fact, reflecting upon everything I've read in the last 10 years since I turned 18 and became an adult (at least legally), some of the best novels I've read have been YA - the Hunger Games trilogy, His Dark Materials trilogy, and, of course, the Harry Potter series. So when I heard about a new novel called "Matched" that appeared to be in the future dystopia vein like the Hunger Games, I couldn't resist.

Cassia Reyes lives in the Society, a totalitarian state. The author is pretty vague about the Society, not mentioning where it is located (there are provinces that are named, but no countries) or how it came to be. All we're told is that it exists, it controls the lives of its people in order to give them long-lasting lives free of struggle or problems, and it values adherence to strict rules above all. Cassia's whole life is monitored, from how she performs in school to how she works out on a treadmill at home to how she works as a "sorter," and this data is compiled and used to plan out her life - what job she will be assigned, where she will live, and who she will marry. Her entire life is controlled right down to her possessions - she is allowed one "artifact," an item from a time before the Society existed. In her case, she has a golden compact handed down to her from her Grandmother. Even her meals are controlled - all citizens are given specially-delivered meals that have been nutritionally-balanced for each specific person, in order to make sure they are as healthy as can be.

At the beginning of the story, Cassia is on her way to her Matching banquet, at which she and dozens of other teens will be introduced to their future mates. When it is her turn, she is surprised to learn that her future husband will be none other than her lifelong friend Xander. Xander and Cassia are given special microcards to read on their "ports" (computers) at home that will tell them all about what to expect now that they are Matched. Cassia returns home and excitedly puts the card into the port, expecting to see all she needs to know about Xander. But instead, a completely different face flashes on her screen and then it goes black. Cassia is stunned - could the Society have made a mistake? Was she given the wrong Match?

Matched follows the basic storyline of a person in a so-called "perfect" society who slowly begins to realize that things aren't as they seem. After she sees the other face, which happens to be that of another friend, Ky (not a spoiler to mention this), she begins to question what the Society really is doing by controlling its citizens lives. By taking away their ability to make choices, is the Society helping them or hurting them? And why did she see Ky's face - what is the explanation for that?

While the story does unfold in a somewhat predictable way, I was thrown a bit by the reasoning behind the microcard error. I won't spoil it here, but I will just say that I thought the author was going one route with it and the explanation given was not what I was expecting. Overall, the story is entertaining, but frustratingly vague. I wanted to know more about the Society, but the story is definitely more about Cassia's awakening and, of course, her love life, since she's torn between two boys. Still, the author leaves the ending open for another book, and if there is a sequel, I will pick it up to see what happens next.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

CBRIII Book 3: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex is a sprawling coming-of-age tale of Cal Stephanides, a Greek-American who was born and raised in Detroit in the 1960s. That's the simplest description of the book that I can come up with. But there's more to the novel, and more to the protagonist as well: Cal is a hermaphrodite (this isn't spoiling anything to mention it) who was raised as a girl named Callie. In order to tell his life story, Cal has to start at the very beginning - when his grandparents Lefty and Desdemona fled Smyrna in the 1920s to start a new life in America (while guarding a dark secret). His story continues with his parents Tessie and Milton and their struggles to conceive a daughter, which leads to his own story of growing up and trying to figure out exactly who and what he is.

It's going to be hard to discuss this book without mentioning more specific details. So I'm going to go ahead and state that if you have not read it, be warned: spoilers abound from here on.


I could not put this book down. That's the highest praise I can give for any book - well, that and the fact that phrases from it have stuck with me. Eugenides takes a fascinating subject - hermaphroditism - and sets it in a fully-fleshed-out world of Greek immigrants and middle class Detroit denizens. The book could have easily veered into "freak-of-the-week" territory, but Eugenides avoids that by making Cal a very realistic character. You feel his sense of wonder as he ponders about his grandparents - about the choice they made and the repercussions of that choice that echo down the generations in Cal's very genes.

And that choice I mention is, of course, their decision to hide the fact that they are brother and sister. They marry and begin a family together, despite Desdemona's fears that their children will be punished for their sin. I've always been fascinated by moral quandaries - what keeps someone from doing something that's wrong or bad? In this case, Lefty & his wife were tempted by the fact that no one would ever know the truth.

Like I said, the book is more than just a coming-of-age tale. It presents a good depiction of the life of immigrants in the early 20th century, and it frames the story of the Stephanides family in the story of the rise and fall of Detroit. But beyond all of that, i's also a discussion of nature vs. nurture. Obviously, genetics plays a major role in Cal's intersexed condition. (I don't think "condition" is the right word I'm looking for, but I'm at a loss.) But nurture is very important too. Cal was raised as a girl, and he faces a tough decision - does he ignore everything that science would tell him and continue as Callie, or does he embrace his genetic destiny at the cost of changing everything he's ever known?

My one qualm with the book would be the revelation of Lefty and Desdemona's incest. It's implied that this is the reason for the genetic anomaly that causes Cal's hermaphroditism, which makes it a big deal, in my opinion. I was expecting a big dramatic scene where Desdemona confesses her secret to the family, but she only mentions it to Cal, and it's revealed and then dropped over a few paragraphs. But maybe I missed the point of it all. Maybe that was what Eugenides was trying to say - that in the end, it wasn't very important because it wasn't the only influence in Cal's life - he wasn't bound to his genetic destiny any more than his grandmother was bound to her shameful secret. He was free to live his life as he chose, no matter what his karyotype might say. Or maybe I'm finding answers that aren't really there. Either way, I think that Cal's story is going to stay with me for a while.

CBR III Book 2: I Am Legend and Other Stories by Richard Matheson

Everyone is familiar with Richard Matheson's best known work, "I Am Legend." It's the subject of three different movies, each a slightly different take on the story of the last man alive after the rest of the world has been turned into monsters. Reading the original tale, it's no wonder so many people have wanted to bring it to the big screen. It's an excellent tale of one man's lonely struggle to remain sane while the monsters outside cry for his blood.

Matheson's writing is dark and forboding, and he's fond of twists, so it's no wonder he used to write for the Twilight Zone series. The second half of this book is a collection of his short stories. Two in particular stand out in my memory: "Mad House," in which a man's anger at his deteriorating marriage and stalled career has an unexpected effect on his home; and "Person to Person," the last story in the collection. In "Person to Person," a man wakes one night to hear a phone ringing in his own head. He finally answers it, only to have another voice speak to him. Who is it? Is it really a man who claims to work for the government running an experiment, or is it something more sinister and close to home?

I really enjoyed reading Matheson's short stories. I might have to seek out his other works. It's easy to see his influence now in Stephen King's work. I recommend him to anyone looking for some good old fashioned horror.

CBR III Book 1: Stiff: the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Death is an inevitability that most of us prefer not to dwell upon. Even less pleasant to consider is what to do with the remains of the deceased. It is this subject that Mary Roach decided to research and write about with her usual wit in her novel "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers." Roach, never one to shy away from the weird or unpleasant, brings her dark sense of humor to a topic that covers everything from the typical ways of dealing with corpses - burying or cremating - to donating your remains to science, medicine, or the military, to other more interesting and lesser known options - such as composting or dissolving the remains in lye.

I had no idea there were so many choices for what to do with your body after you've passed on. I knew the obvious choices - be buried/cremated or donate your remains - but beyond that, I knew very little. Roach not only discusses all the different ways corpses can be handled, she delves into the history of how we've handled our dead, and looks to how it may change in the future. One current option that is gaining traction in Sweden is composting cadavers. People who choose this path would be used to help a ceremonial tree or bush planted in their honor to grow. Frankly, I think that's a lovely idea, and in this day of growing environmental concerns, who wouldn't want to go on helping the earth after they're gone? Of course, ideas like that are only beginning to bud (sorry) - as a species we're still fairly uneasy about death and handling corpses. We still have far to go before such an option becomes widely accepted. Roach encourages her readers to think about what to do with their own bodies, and I like the idea of donating myself to science, in the hopes that someone might be able to use me to help others.